When you go on an adventure, you’ll always encounter things that were never described in the travel brochure. In Bolivia, most travelers know that this country is notorious for its high altitudes and beautiful landscapes.
Some of the most famous attractions in Bolivia are the Salar de Uyuni or the world’s largest salt flats. Others include Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world), stunning national parks, La Paz (the administrative capital), and the terrifying Death Road.
All of those attractions and more make Bolivia a must-see country in South America. However, that’s not all. Here are some incredible things that you probably don’t know yet about Bolivia!
Seeing Witch Doctors on the Streets Is Normal
In La Paz, there’s a place called the Mercado de las Brujas aka the Witches’ Market. If you love witch doctors and Bolivian culture, this is the perfect spot! It’s full of indigenous people who still practice the ways of old. That includes ancient beliefs of the Aymara and the witch culture.
At the Witches’ Market, you’ll be able to explore the mysterious culture of a nation that believes in a multi-spirit world. Visitors will also see medicine men, magicians, and witches walking the streets. Additionally, there are many street vendors who sell all kinds of witchcraft supplies. That includes tools and ingredients that witches use for love, health, or longevity rituals. And there’s much more. It’s common to see dried llama fetuses hang from walls and ceilings. This is a special ritual for the indigenous people, and it serves as a tribute to Goddess Pachamama.
At this moment, the market is a tourist hot-spot. Still, it’s common to see the Yatiris among the crowds. The Yatiris are priests and healers who wear cocoa pouches and black hats.
A Huge Chunk of Bolivia Was Traded to Brazil for a Horse
Way back in the 1860s, Mariano Melgarejo was Bolivia’s president. He was also a ruthless military officer with an infamous reputation. During the Treaty of Ayacucho in the late 1860s, Melgarejo negotiated with Brazil’s delegates, but something else caught his eye: their horses! According to the story, Melagarejo took a special interest in a white horse that was part of the delegates’ entourage.
In fact, Melgarejo became obsessed with the horse and wanted it for himself. At a meeting between the delegates and the president, he pointed to a map of Bolivia. Then, he drew the outline of the horse’s hoof onto the map. The delegates allegedly agreed to give Melgarejo the white horse in exchange for that portion of the land.
Cebritas — Zebras That Will Help You Cross the Street
Back in 2001, the government of La Paz created some new plans for urban education and road management. In the 2000s, traffic saw an excessive increase, and dangerous accidents were a daily occurrence. But, as part of the Vial plan, the government arranged to place zebras on zebra crossings. This was a decision to help children, students, adults, and seniors across the roads safely due to heavy traffic.
Of course, they didn’t use real zebras. Instead, the government opted for volunteers in two-piece costumes. The volunteers were mainly people who lived or worked on the streets as shoe-shiners. Fortunately, the zebras left a huge impact on minimizing road chaos and traffic accidents. Furthermore, this mass campaign also intended to reach people in a creative and friendly way. It wasn’t easy to do this as drivers and citizens didn’t understand the initiative at first. Also, many citizens were still unaware of how a zebra crossing actually worked.
La Paz launched several other new policies to fulfill the needs of the people as well as to improve overall behavior. In time, the zebras or cebritas made the city famous. They became known as a symbol of respect, love, gratitude, and wellness. They also made a great example for children.
The Clock of the South
Back in 2014, the citizens of La Paz saw a strange anomaly in the historic district. Namely, the clock found at the top of the Bolivian congress building started to turn backward. But, the motion wasn’t reversed. Actually, the hands of the clock and its numbers were inverted.
Even though the hands were still turning clockwise, it appeared that time was actually going backward. The new clock was nicknamed the “clock of the south” by David Choquehuanca, the Foreign Minister of Bolivia. But what prompted such an unusual change?
According to Choquehuanca, the government purposely altered the mechanism and the clock’s design in order to make a statement. The politicians wanted to remind the people of their unique heritage. They also wanted to show them that established norms should be questioned. They wanted to emphasize that all people should be encouraged to think creatively. The Foreign Minister also posed some valuable questions on why people have to obey orders and why a clock always has to tick in one direction. Interestingly, during the G77 summit in Santa Cruz, Choquehuanca did something similar. He changed the mechanism on the desk clocks of foreign delegates to remind them of some annexed territories that originally belonged to Bolivia.
Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
In the past, the term “cholita” had derogatory connotations. People used it to refer to girls of mixed or indigenous heritage. However, the use of this term changed over time. Currently, the Cholitas are strong and independent women who walk the streets with braided hair and unique bowler hats. They are a frequent occurrence on city streets. You might even see them chewing on some coca leaves. Plus, it’s not uncommon to see cholitas squat down to pee in public! Cholitas is a broad term that encompasses empowered, proud, and fashion-conscious Bolivian women. However, they are also famous in Bolivian female wrestling.
Lucha Libre, the Bolivian form of professional wrestling, did not originally accept women. However, women started to wrestle in the 2000s. This happened in response to the rise of domestic violence. Many indigenous women took to the ring. They started wrestling professionally while wearing traditional clothes. That includes braids, bowler hats, and multilayered skirts. The women called themselves the Flying Cholitas. They became part of a larger wrestling group called the Titans of the Ring.
Additionally, over the years, the cholitas became widely accepted in society. They provoked changes in social attitudes and managed to get accepted into places that were unimaginable one or two decades ago. That includes the wrestling ring, but it also encompasses universities, government facilities, lawyer’s offices, TV studios, and banks.
As you can see, Bolivia is full of surprises! This beautiful country holds many other secrets, and the only way to explore them is to see them for yourself! Good luck!